This semester I am also taking a class on documentary films about justice and injustice. In class we have watched several noteworthy films about justice such as Bully, Food, Inc., Waiting for Superman, An Inconvenient Truth, Mea Culpa Maxima: Silence in the House of God, amongst many others. Each student must report on two films (graduate students must report on three films). I reported on Food, Inc., and I will do a report on Mea Culpa Maxima.
This syllabus is below.
Catalog Description: Examines style and influence of key social issue and social justice
documentary filmmakers. Identifies filmmaking techniques and analyzes issues in documentary filmmaking. Examines ethics in social justice documentary filmmaking. Describes effects documentary film has on perception of events and issues, as well as discussing how social media is used in social justice filmmaking.
Course Prerequisite: Any prior course in Communications, Criminal Justice, or
Independent Filmmaking at Governors State or permission of the instructor.
Rationale: This film seminar is intended to introduce social issue and social
justice filmmaking to students in the Criminal Justice, Communications and Independent Film and Digital Imaging programs. Exposure to and study of accomplished documentary films may affect the development of our own methods of critical thinking and demonstrate the power and effect these films have on our society as well as the ability they may have to alter our perceptions and even change the course of lawmakers or legislation.
Intended Audience: Students in Criminal Justice, Media Communication and
Independent Film with strong personal or professional interest in social issue / social justice documentary film and filmmaking. Course Objectives:
Demonstrate a range of knowledge with regard to the world’s best-known and influential documentary filmmakers, their work, and their antecedents in documentary history. Our emphasis in this course will be on contemporary documentary filmmakers and their approaches to storytelling, production, post- production, and distribution.
Express insight into the pressures concomitant in the otherwise supportive relationship between documentary filmmakers and their sources of financing, and their role in publicity.
Express insight into the ethical considerations of documentary filmmaking.
Express insight into styles and aesthetics of the documentary films screened and discussed in the course.
Know and respect the distinction between a documentary’s content – how it may make us think or feel – and the medium and technique of its filmmakers.
Understand how the emotional response a film engenders draws the sustained engagement of an audience.
Recognize how a filmmaker uses the “call to action” and how social media is utilized to rally an audience and bring action to a cause long after the film has been viewed.
Expected Student Outcomes
Upon completion of this course students should be able to:
Identify message meanings and their significance. Examine techniques of effective message design.
Demonstrate the ability to communicate effectively and with integrity as informed and engaged global citizens.
Explore the relationships between communication and culture as a means of fostering intercultural relationships.
Identify and exemplify ethical and professional communication practices that
promote human relations.
Master discipline-related theory and aesthetics and demonstrate this mastery through effective written and oral presentations.
Demonstrate critical thinking and evaluative abilities as they relate to interpretations of digital photographic arts and the cinema.
Expected Graduate Students Outcomes:
Graduate students are expected demonstrate a more sophisticated scope and proficiency in interpretation and analysis in both oral and written formats. Graduate students will be required to make three presentations during the term, while undergraduates present twice.
Graduate students are also required to achieve an above average performance with respect to assignments, examinations, and participation.
Instructional Modalities and Activities:
Students will be responsible for finding and independently screening assigned films or works by a given filmmaker on a weekly basis. We will meet on campus in seminar sessions that will include screenings of film clips and filmmaker interviews, as well as discussions and short presentations. You will be expected to speak each week about the films you have seen.
The course has no required text. In lieu of texts, film rentals will be required, and a subscription to Netflix is strongly recommended. All films will be available either on Netflix, or through a streaming rental on iTunes, Amazon, or Hulu.
Optional Text: Cunningham, Megan. The Art of the Documentary: Ten
Conversations with Leading Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, and Producers. New Riders Press, 2005.
Curran Bernard, Sheila. Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen. Elsevier Inc., 2011.
Website for Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary. Thirty-eight filmmakers from 14 countries share their passion for documentary and talk about the artistic and ethical choices they make in their craft. http://www3.nfb.ca/webextension/capturing-reality/
Relevant/required reading and viewing may be made available by the instructor by email or on Blackboard.
Please note: the Course Outline, including any film identified for screening along the way, is subject to change during the semester. Each scheduled meeting will consist of student seminar presentations and discussions about films. The titles of the films to be screened will be determined on a weekly basis as the course progresses and updates to screenings will be posted on blackboard or distributed through email.
Class 1 – August 27 Discuss syllabus, course outline. Class 2 – September 3 Presentations / discussion Class 3 – September 10 Presentations / discussion Class 4 – September 17 Presentations / discussion Class 5 – September 24 Presentations / discussion Class 6 – October 1 No class session – Complete take-home Documentary Social
Media Assignment Class 7 – October 8 Presentations / discussion / term essay assigned Class 8 – October 15 Presentations / discussion / midterm review Class 9 – October 22 Midterm test Class 10 – October 29 Presentations / discussion Class 11– November 5 Presentations / discussion Class 12 – November 12 Presentations / discussion Class 13 – November 19 Presentations / discussion / Term essay due Class 14 – November 26 Final Exam review Class 15 – December 3 Final Exam
Evaluation: Grade Percentages
Documentary Social Media Assignment 10%
This assignment calls for you to consider how social media is used in social justice filmmaking. You will get more detailed information on this assignment later in the semester.
Weekly Blackboard Discussion 10%
Throughout the semester, you’ll be required to post responses to questions I ask about the films we are viewing that week. You must post your responses to the course Discussion board on Blackboard no later than 12 pm on Tuesdays. These responses are designed to help you watch more attentively, think more critically and to be better prepared for class discussions. Undergraduate students are required to submit six (6) responses over the course of the semester; graduate students are required to submit eight (8) responses. Your responses will be graded on a 10-‐point scale. Here are some additional guidelines:
• Undergraduates: Your responses should be at least 200 words in length. (The best way to check your word count is to compose your response in Microsoft Word, and then copy and paste it into the discussion board.) Graduates: Your responses should be about 300 words in length.
• Discussion posts for a given film must be submitted no later than 12pm on the day we discuss that film. No late responses will be accepted.
• Begin your response by listing film, filmmaker, and scene in the film that you are referencing. You may summarize a certain scene and then reflect upon some larger question, theme, or issue evoked by that particular scene. An acceptable alternative would be to respond directly to a classmate’s post. Just keep in mind that you should be courteous and kind to your classmates.
On two (undergraduate students) or three (graduate students) sessions during the term, you will lead the group in an exploration of a particular documentary film, and/or filmmaker. See handout.
Mid-term Quiz 15%
The midterm will cover content from lectures, discussions, films and assigned reading to date.
Term essay 20%
Your term essay of 2,500 to 5,000 words is due on November 19. I will distribute an assignment sheet with several suggested topics later in the term. I strongly encourage each of you to meet with me to discuss ideas for your paper.
Final Exam 20%
The essay examination will cover content from lectures, discussions, films and assigned reading. The majority of the questions call for short written responses.
Attendance and Participation 5%
You are expected to attend all lectures, screenings, and post screening discussions and participate in class discussions.
Advisory for graduate students enrolled in IFDI-8400/MCOM-6040/CJUS- 6000-06 : you are expected to meet a higher qualitative standard than the undergraduates enrolled in this course. As such, you will be required to make three presentations during the term, while undergraduates present twice. You are also required to achieve an above average performance (see Grading Policy, below) with respect to assignments, examinations, and participation.
A Superior Performance 90-100 B Above average performance 80-89 C Average performance 70-79 D Marginal performance 66-69 F Failure 64 and below
Requests for “Incompletes”
A grade of “I” (for “Incomplete”) is assigned and an extension may be granted only by permission of the instructor. In all courses outside of thesis projects and internships, please be aware that after an Incomplete is approved, a student’s maximum attainable grade for the course will be a “B” or lower.
Attendance and Participation:
Your success in the course is directly related to your attendance. In particular, your performance on exams will suffer if you miss any classes. Keep that in mind when you weigh the importance of anything you might miss class for. It should go without saying that this encompasses all personal conduct and the respectful treatment of your fellow students. Please notify the instructor at your soonest convenience after attending to an emergency that has necessitated an absence.
Attendance is otherwise required in all classes. Students are allowed 2 (two) absences or late appearances (15+ minutes). With the exception of emergencies, each absence or lateness thereafter will result in the drop of one letter grade. A fourth absence or late appearance will make a grade of “C” the highest obtainable grade for the course.
In special circumstances, a student may make arrangements to miss class by calling the instructor at least one week in advance. A student who misses a class is expected, regardless, to turn in projects that are due on or before the due date. Any missed assignments or tests cannot be made up. Your mark for participation is linked to your attendance. If you’re not here, you’re not participating. This grade is affected even if an absence is excused.